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5 Ways to Explore Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park

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Nestled among County Mayo’s majestic Nephin Beg mountain range lies an expanse of picturesque land that feels like your own private hideaway.

At over 15,000 hectares, Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park heightens the senses and exceeds expectations.

The third largest of Ireland’s six National Parks, this is the place to escape to when it’s time to truly go off-grid and get back to nature. Boasting the Owenduff/Nephin bog complex, the largest and most intact example of active Atlantic blanket bog in Western Europe; stunning Slieve Carr, Ireland’s most remote mountain; and some utterly exceptional wildlife – Irish mountain hare, red fox, pine marten, otter, red deer and exceptional rare birdlife including merlin and golden plover – this all-encompassing National Park never fails to captivate.

It’s also perfectly positioned at just a 45-minute drive from Westport, 40 minutes from Achill and about an hour’s spin from Ballina. Prepare for Letterkeen’s lush walking trails, internationally-recognised natural habitats at the park’s heart, a top notch visitor centre in Ballycroy, mountain peaks to marvel at and of course, the cosy Ginger & Wild café to unwind in.

Here are five ways to enjoy Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park’s rugged beauty.

  • Explore this captivating corner of County Mayo

1.    Claggan Mountain Coastal Trail

Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park is the only one of Ireland’s six national parks that boasts a boundary stretching to the sea. Take this gentle 1km boardwalk route across the bog and return along that serene seashore, a 2km looped walk in total. Roam where the blanket bog meets the salty sea on this inviting stroll along Bellacragher Bay with views to Achill Island. Spy long-legged wading birds, otters and even seals as you embrace the trail’s wild charm.


2. Letterkeen Looped Walks

Wander the woodland and feel the softness of the bog and the crunch of forest floor underfoot in leafy Letterkeen Woods. From the Brogan Carroll Bothy carpark you can take your choice of three colour-coded looped routes – ranging 6km-12km, moderate to hard – that cover forest trails, babbling river banks, beautiful bogland and lush, open mountain slopes.


3. Dark Sky Park

By day, a colourful haven of shrubbery, mosses and wildlife, but by night Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park invites you to look skyward. Ireland’s first International Dark Sky Park, it showcases some of the darkest, most pristine skies worldwide. On a clear night here you can see an astounding 4,500+ shining stars with the naked eye, not to mention a host of planets, the Milky Way and meteor showers too. The park boasts three signature Dark Sky viewing points, each with ‘Gold Tier’ status under the International Dark-Sky Association’s criteria: the National Park Visitor Centre, Ballycroy Village; Claggan Mountain Coastal Trail; and Robert Lloyd Praeger Centre, previously the Brogan Carroll Bothy, Letterkeen.

An exceptional way to appreciate this area’s epic beauty and our tiny place in a vast solar system, an evening spent stargazing here is one you will simply never forget. You could even time your visit to coincide with the annual Mayo Dark Skies Festival – check the website for November 2020 dates for this event.

  • Take your pick of some 4,500+ twinkling stars

4. Bangor Trail

Nudging the foot of beautiful Slieve Carr, the Bangor Trail leads you through the Nephin Beg mountain range on a remarkable route dating back to the 16th century. A hefty 40km if you’re hardy enough to follow it from Bangor to Newport, or do your feet a favour by starting at Letterkeen, leaving you with 26km to walk. Not recommended for beginners, this trail can take 12 hours, with the ground rough, wet and quite exposed to the ever-changing elements. Perfect for very experienced walkers up for a challenge!


5. Make the Most of Your Visit

If you’re not yet sure which way you want to explore, the park’s visitor centre is a great place to start. (While the centre is closed for the winter season, it's due to open again for 2020 in early spring.) The interactive exhibition and knowledgeable staff can steer you in just the right direction: learn about conservation, ask questions about wildlife and uncover the geology and history of the park too. There’s also a 2km trail to whet walkers’ appetites, showcasing unrivalled views of the Nephin Beg mountain range. 

Visiting the park in the summer months? A free shuttle bus operates from June-August, bringing visitors from surrounding areas to and around the park, dropping you off at certain points. Also during the summer, be sure to take part in one of the Ranger Led Hikes and you’ll soon see the surrounds through an expert’s eyes. Specifically aimed at first-time visitors, one of the park’s experienced Conservation Rangers takes you on a long-distance hike (8 hours), discussing the area’s incredible biodiversity and exquisite landscape along the way. 

When your feet need a break from all that wandering, the visitor centre’s family-run Ginger & Wild Café is just the place to relax. With its delightful views of Achill Island and the wave-lapped Atlantic coastline, you can indulge your senses as well as your appetite. While you’re there, cast an eye over the café’s Stronach Gallery – the walls boast stunning contemporary art, with exhibitions changing often.

These are just five ways you can explore this wild, untouched County Mayo marvel – there are countless more ways to experience this idyllic corner of the Wild Atlantic Way too.  Find out more.

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